Love is something ordinary, something we all experience. But we are not ordinary.
Extravagant Love is an artistic investigation into extraordinary ways of experiencing love and practicing loving. It is a deep dive into the hidden ontology of love. We are not looking for definitions of love, but appearances of love and loving found in the blind zones of normality, love outside of the norms defined by political correctness and culturally set blinders.
Love permeates our lives. It is an existential part of our everyday thinking and feeling. In every culture love takes on a different form but is always an inherent part of life, one way or another. Love is the greatest driving force in human lives. Love motivates, inspires, elevates and puts us in ecstasy, but it also causes war, strife, depressions and desperation. Whether romantic, familiar or religious, love sets our moods from red hot (com)passion to the homicidal dark. Love is above all deterministic: it is a phenomenon none of us escape.
Fed and fostered by culturally and traditionally accepted ways of loving throughout our lives, we tend to seek love and forms of loving we feel are acceptable. With this in mind the question arises if love is truly our own choice? Or just another echo chamber, made up for us through culture, popular media, politics, family upbringing, religion? Mainstream romance films, pop culture and digital influencers pervade our lives, turning our relationship ideals into copies of one another, creating a surplus in the feeding tube for our minds; we are fed to the brim, fattened till we burst out of our pre-made love suits. But love is not made in one-size-fits-all: millions of people are exploring love outside the norms, forms of love that have been judged, forbidden, or deemed impossible by societal standards.
Throughout the process of curating and composing the exhibition we have been through a range of topics and discussions relating to our view of the extravagant in love, from the philosophical, ethical, political, cultural to the economical. Above all, we seek to shed light onto questions of repressed or rarely mentioned dimensions of love.
Galvanized conceptions of love can sometimes be helpful in raising the most important questions, such as Darko Vukić’s (RS) installation Electroplating the Baby. Situated between necro- and bio- politics, the artwork questions how the culmination of parental love through reproduction can be solidified by galvanizing their unborn child into a precious silver object. It is a necromantic gesture, preciously silvering the most fragile nucleus of the true symbol of familiar love. Indeed, perhaps by acquiring possession of love as an object, we may truly cherish and continuously keep a loving relationship.
Can the object of love fuel our loving by ensuring that the physical body stays relatively intact forever?
Anna Dumitriu’s (UK) project The Romantic Disease presents another twist on love objectified. Her work is a love letter from the past, presenting love as a lethal attraction. An antique maternity dress has been impregnated with the extracted DNA (killed) tuberculosis bacteria. The work title mirrors the nickname of tuberculosis as the romantic disease as its slow progress – or decay – was thought to bestow heightened sensitivity upon its victim. The project is near necromantic with its flirting with the “White Plague” of the 18th century. It is an important reminder of how fleeting both love and life can be.
The extravagant can also be found in the mundane, a simple thing, such as a meeting at a gas station. Shir Handelsman (IL) sets the scene in his two canal piece Morendo. Or rather, he lets his protagonists be the narrators: these are his parents who have not spoken for six years. Shot in a surreal background, aesthetically surrendering to their simple story of time lost, memory fleeting, love almost forgotten. If memories could become subject to will - would this be a way to suspend passing time, that which corrodes infatuation? Josip Pino Ivančić (HR) plays around with the mundane, serving us the ingredients of a Mediterranean lover. In red White Blue Honey and (s)Teran, he serves up the authentic ingredients of a rogue, coastal lover, a “Dalmatian seagull”: blood, sperm, blue lipstick, honey and a bottle of wine, all neatly set on a tablecloth completely made out of newspaper ads in search of love.
In her long term research Love is somewhere else., Charlotte Fuentes (FR) investigates what it means to fall in love with a story, a potentiality, a possibility of falling in love. She sends letters, postcards, builds her life around a fictitious loving intention, nested in her mind, guarded from reality by the mere impossibility of love reciprocated, since one lover is dead and the other is lost at sea. And what if we could simply eliminate the story but keep the feeling of anxious warmth, uncertainty, giddiness? Entering Antonija Bačić’s (HR) space Sehnsucht, we find ourselves brought to a place of nostalgia, yearning for the universal feeling of falling in love. A dreamy space, enveloped in pastel drapery, furnished by objects dating from the time of a ballooning romance. Love is here not as relationship with a romantic other, friend or family, but distilled into an emotion we repeatedly crave – to, once again, be fantastically lost, once we fulfill the gap induced by mystery and inexperience.
Or is it found in the longing for love? Branko Milisković’s (RS) performance The Song of a Soldier on Watch, inspired by WWII song Lili Marlene, is a mournful serenade filled with anticipation and torment of waiting for the beloved to return. If eliminating the story leaves room for enhanced sensitivity without the fear of losing or missing out, holding on to the story with no designated love interest incites a deep melancholy, since potentially anyone could take over the main role in the script.
As we progress, gleefully submerged in love as a sensory experience, we enter the darkened space of artists Jens Christian Bo Johansen (DK) and Sara Jurinčić (HR). Erotic Inquiry No. 1 invites us to a lovers’ fantasy, a meeting point where love is condensed into tactile, visual and auditory stimulus. We sit alone, hearing, seeing and touching objects inducing warm and fuzzy feelings, wondering if this could be the meaningful space in-between us and another.
Eventually, in this loneliness we may find ourselves whistling to a tune, the same one, over and over again. So does Niko Mihaljević (HR) in his 30-minute performance piece Need Your Love So Bad. Lonely in a hotel room, he whistles to Fleetwood Mac’s rendition of the song - to be relived time and again in a karaoke bar-like setting in front of an eager audience, waiting for the pattern to change. The pattern does not change, the melancholy remains, rendered absurd without source or aim.
By the glare of the karaoke LCD screen, we travel to another dark room containing an electronic tablet waiting to be consumed. At the entrance, we are welcomed with disinfectant spray and paper tissues. The work is FETISH by Dani Ploeger (NL): escorted by spray and wipes, we are awaited by a dark screen in need of cleaning and licking. Lick the screen and it gets brighter, illuminating its surroundings. Whose needs are actually being met? With our faces somehow always illuminated by a bluish hue, perhaps this is how we find fulfillment: embraced by light as a sign of reciprocity. A true digital love story, with the screen becoming the melting point and the corporeal interface between man and machine.
Screens dividing lovers, tongues tied for lack of an intimate contact, facing a mural collage assembled by an obsessive mind. Andi Wallwhore & Gina Rottweiler (US) tell us all about it with their story of distance in I miss sleeping all night with You inside my mouth. Here we are faced with a portrayal of craving: long distance lusting after the other’s touch to the point of pain. As painful as it is to fill the gap between them, their mural will need to be laboriously torn down in order to be removed. Zane Cerpina’s (NO) The Book of Love Bites settles this difference by invading, embedding her marks on another person’s body: intimately biting inscriptions and signs of love into her lover’s skin over the course of several years.
Both projects return to the idea of love as a haptic experience, reinforced by all senses, satisfying an animalistic instinct of penetrating and being pierced by another. Could consuming your lover quench this thirst? Roce Canibal (ES) in their performance Hemoglophilia [Recipes to satisfy cannibal hunger] attempt to demonstrate exactly this. Ce Quimera and Roger Rabbitch invite us to experience this bloody feast seeking to eliminate a common gap between lovers.
Flesh to flesh, blood to blood, fat to fat – Adam Zaretsky (US) performs Lipofection on a willing audience. Collecting bodily fluids, fruits and vegetables, he creates a fatty concoction meant to be massaged into the skin. Thinking of a way to truly connect, it is difficult to imagine a more personal attachment than absorbing another’s DNA. In the same biotechnological vein, we may look at Marta de Menezes’s (PT) work Anti-Marta. Wife – artist, husband – scientist, attempting skin transplants on one another only for the partner’s skin to be rapidly rejected. Though their skins resist binding, their bonding is everlasting in virtual space where Anti-Marta antibodies drift, existing only for the purpose of differentiating the other’s cell. What happens here is twofold: bodies merging in virtual space, while at the same time, a body that will not be altered keeps its identity. Dan Oki (HR) and Sandra Sterle (HR) try to present a twosome exploratory journey in a different way in their installation 1997. The animation, made more than twenty years ago, still shows the never-ending exchange between any two people in the form of the artists’ heads in space. Their relationship, fleeting in one instance and absolutely deathless in the next, suggests a flow of constant back and forth, as if the two are bound by something greater which they cannot control or have any impact on.
From two to six, Tamara Bilankov, Hrvoslava Brkušić, Stella Leboš, Luana Lojić, Ivana Pipal and Ana Vuzdarić of the Ljubavnice [Mistresses] (HR) collective expand creating THE SEVENTH in their work I would rather be a cyborg than a goddess. A virtual polyidentity, meant as a collection of all six – a missionary searching for new ways of living, this seventh mistress is free of worldly troubles. As a virtual entity, VENTRILIO by Boris Debackere (BE) and Jerry Galle (BE) has other concerns. This artificial intelligence sifts through cyberspace searching for what we can teach a machine about love. As the question “What is love?” trickles through, conceptions learnt from dating sites, social media and other web spaces are articulated by an anthropomorphic ventriloquist doll controlled by a robot arm. A sieving of human cyber-information to be brought back to us by a heartaching doll trying to connect.
From true love and companionship frozen in virtual space, we take a reality turn with Jaden J. A. Hastings’s (AU) installation PHANES (Posthuman Articial Net Embryo Synthesizer). An AI, a honey trap and a seductive call for the ideal mating partner. PHANES is an artificial intelligence trained to find errors in Jaden’s genome: it is on the hunt for an ideal DNA partner, a match that will foster a real and improved offspring. Her love is nested in future perfection and protection: the perfect child, despite a deficient mother and deficient father.
Margherita Pevere (IT/DE) on the other hand looks at how hormonal contraceptives prevent pregnancy. Her project Wombs investigates the ecologies of fleshy desire by staging an unlikely dance of two organisms at cellular level. An extra-bodily organ serves as the dancefloor for the coupling of her vaginal epithelial cells with slug egg cells. The setup casts a critical focus on the body as a biochemical cyborg whose leaking material (chemical contraceptives) affect our environment (slug) also outside the female body.
And what of deficient mothers? Ana Sladetić (HR) in her political work Milk raises the question of boundaries that define an adequate mother. Breastfeeding, commonly seen as a mother’s supreme, almost divine duty, becomes a weapon against all those who are unable to perform. Shamed and scrutinized, she redefines her relationship to the child, becoming merely an instrument in service of the hungry newborn. This causes a deep void created by corroding the act of breastfeeding, now bearing associations to grief rather than great delight. Perhaps it is better to look elsewhere. As does Maja Smrekar (SI) in K-9_Topology: Hybrid Family where she rids herself of answers of anthropocentric gestures. The hybrid family is one of canines and she as the mother - they are each distinct entities, animal and human, suckling, melding together, becoming an idealistic, rootless family tree. She signals towards a future space and time, a civil space where the ideas of family, love, community and civility are no longer bound by species. Her hybrid family is the model for boundless, trans-special love.
While Maja Smrekar creates a needlepoint embroidery using her hybrid family hair, Betina Habjanič (SI) mournfully sews a pig’s carcass whole. How does love compare with death? Her Love Act: Marche Funèbre performs a post-mortem ritual to become whole again, from chopped-up pieces to regaining a sentient form. Truly an act of love for another. Alive and divided by factory farm life, they could never have had this pleasure. After love transcending species, we are welcomed by Beth Stephens & Annie Sprinkle (US) of ECOSEX who have found their perfect lover in something other. In our age marked by hyperobjects and ecological catastrophes, their Ecosex Manifesto 1.0 takes a genuinely ecological approach to love and action, changing the leading metaphor from “Earth as Mother” to “Earth as Lover”. They are nothing less than madly, passionately and fiercely in love with Earth and they practice their love for the planet to the fullest, thereby challenging our conceptions of ecology, gender and identity until all of these become fluid.
With the current ecocatastrophe in mind, Earth is truly in need of a lover. Saša Spačal (SI) might be the one sending it a message with her biotechnological installation Inspiration. This message, however, is written out by a respiratory machine which decides who will inhale the air enriched with soil bacteria Mycobacterium vaccae. Breathe, and the bacteria gives you a feeling of calm and romantic elation, less anxiety and increased mental capacity. But not everyone is equal before the bioreactor apparatus, as it only gives shots in uneven intervals. Inspiration gives you the opportunity to experience Earth in all its jouissance, but only if it picks you.
Together grasping for that decisive breath, we gather again around a communal machine. This is Vitar Drinković’s (HR) installation HEART TUBE. Four stethoscopes looking for pumping hearts, once connected, the device booms our inner sound. As we face each other, the installation registers our every movement, shortness and thrill - individual pumps blending, creating a new form of hopelessly romantic bio-communication. Our sounds fusing, the divide of you and me removed, the performance Choreography of Utopia by dancer Sonja Pregrad, musician and designer Andro Giunio and multimedia artist Tin Dožić (HR) confront us with a synesthetic experience of light, sound and movement. Here, we are again brought into a darkened room. This room is transformed into a living organism, an environment where love is thought of as unification of difference: noise can become light, light can become movement.
Ending in darkness we may switch on the light, only to be welcomed by the shine of a golden plate. A plate gilded with golden leaves on top of a bundle of freshly burnt pine trees. It is Siniša Labrović’s (HR) installation Love of spitting into the bowl from which I am eating. His work offers a political take on love: in order to truly love yourself you must bite the hand that feeds you – to love yourself you must perform an act of aggression towards the demand for production and profit fueled by market economy. The installation thus expresses love through the act of spitting, spitting into the opulent golden plate put on top of sorrowful trees collected from a forest fire just few months past. Softly and gently, Julischka Stengele (AT) inverts the optics of normative love as she pours endless kisses onto her othered body in the performance Not for Oscar. Her attempts to mark every part of her oversized body with a kiss print turns her corpus from the object to the focal point of love of everything strangely other and everything human. Where she fails to kiss herself, the audience is invited to complete the imprinting of love.
With kisses in hand, we circle round to our final stop: a collaboration between Silvio Vujičić’s fashion brand E.A. 1/1 S.V. (HR) and KONTEJNER. Serving as a store offering embroidered clothing holding fantastical stories and long forgotten histories of sex and love, we may pick and choose what we wish to take with us. And so, leaving, we become a part of this extravagant love story which has always had its place in our everyday world.
One by one, we have peeked inside this polyphonic entity of extravagant love. Each artist in this romance has opened up a new path to a space where love is a viscous spread, seeping into our future lives. Looking back, the search for extravagance has enabled us to find love in all orders of relationships: towards self, of parent and child, mother and father, politics, romantic other, rising above the human, species and nature. The modes in which love and ways of loving appeared have surpassed our expectations. We have learned that love, on the horizon of life, is subject to all kinds of influences: from the biopolitical to the hormonal, from blinding desire to the calculated rational, from the familiar and normative to the strange and alien. To love is to traverse vast fields of possibilities and choices, during which many of us realize an extravagant individual narrative. In the end, the extravagant dimension of love, therefore, refers to all that love can be.
Klara Petrović, Stahl Stenslie, Luja Šimunović